Following ArabNet 2010 Web Conference; Analyzing MENA’s Innovation Persona

20 May, 2010

ArabCrunch opens guest posting to entrepreneurs and  industry professionals- todays post is by Omar Aloyoun, he is Technology, Marketing & Product Management specialist and a Business Strategist in EVERNET. He was one of the entrepreneurs who pitched at Arabnet conference. He is looking forward to bringing new Customer-driven & Market-driven e-products to the world. You can reach him at his ArabCrunch.NET profile here. ( if you want to be a contributor or post a guest post email me at EditorATarabcrucnchDOTcom, Guest posts does not represent AC’s point of view.)

The majority of conversations and web-storming sessions that took place during and after the successful ArabNet conference were all focused on the importance of an organized follow up to the conference. It’s a call for an Industry CRM and a measurable call-to-action plan between the region’s proactive users, Venture Capitalists, Social Media Moguls (e.g. Google, Yahoo) and entrepreneurs.

ArabNet event was an important step that has helped accelerate, predict and shape a roadmap of the Web industry in our region. A zone rich with money, skilled human resources and a unifying language landscape but still lacks the momentum to innovate and achieve due to many factors that have been discussed extensively during the conference eight panels.

One of the most compelling experiences that made the scene at ArabNet is the Live Tweeting which proved how social media are shaping today’s conversations and events. The instant ArabNet attendees were actually front channeling the conference panels discussions; an exciting back channel conversation (#ArabNetMe) was winding up on the twitter-sphere.

Both the region’s competencies and weaknesses were clearly described by many leaders. Many hot discussions were insisting on overriding organizational and governmental Paradox to ignite Arab Innovation. This was clear in Fadi Ghandour speech at the conference laying a big responsibility on all industry players including Governments, Private Sector, VCs and Entrepreneurs. He also stressed out the importance of true utilization of youth talents, creating new jobs, commercializing ideas and stopping talent immigration.

During Google Arabia event in Dubai, Google has characterized year 2009 as the Internet tipping point for MENA and the year in which the Internet has graduated in the region.

Mohammad Gawdat (Google’s Managing Director, EMEA) adds that a total of 3224 patents filed from MENA region in last 13 years, with Jordan leading with more than 150 comparing to 233,000 patents for Japan. Gawdat adds that optimism is on the horizon and that the region has the chance to ‘leapfrog’ over Western region; it’s the responsibility of all online players including users, agencies and web moguls.

So what makes an Innovative nation?

As per Steve Jobs CEO of Apple  “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”, so where shall we locate innovation in MENA knowing that Web industry in the region is a me-too adopter of others technologies for products that were created for different cultures and segments.

MENA region has a low Tech Startups Density Index comparing to neighboring countries, USA, and Europe. This index reflects how much these startups can attract venture capital dollars per person. Entrepreneurs and Youth are the bricks of our new economy, and talent and technology plays a major role in keeping these startups on the cutting edge whatever challenges they face. An Innovative nation calls to invest in brains not bricks and needs to transform any challenges it faces into assets and to leverage the business talents of young people.

Real innovation is about adding value for both the business and its consumers. An Innovative culture nurtures entrepreneurship spirit even within inside companies by having an Internal Marketing Tactics (B2E/Business-To-Employee) through initiating a wide brainstorming sessions with creative employees, allowing promoted ideas to see the light of day by developing an efficient value chain.

Companies also need to engage in ideas conversations with external customers to capture ideas on their offerings. This will help shape future products roadmaps, formulating a dynamic forum to capture and act on customers’ best ideas, and taking these innovative ideas to markets.

An innovative nation utilizes untapped resources and assets to achieve unmet needs by filling a gap in the market. We need creators’ entrepreneurs who can make real difference and we don’t need more imitators. We want startups that build and establish value before preplanning monetization and money will follow.

Many startups need to reinvent themselves and more serious angel investors are needed to empower more startups out of the life cycle funnel. Many investments are gaining market share with a continuous market growth (The Stars as Per BCG Matrix); these can be converted to cash cows by providing them with all resources they need.

What applies to startups, also applies to commercialization of ideas. Fadi Ghandour said: “In order for innovation to really occur, we need to stop launching new ideas and focus on a few whether they succeed or fail”. Another approach is to uncover great ideas, generate a large quantity of them; a few may break even and many may become rewarding and pay back the costs of the broken down ideas.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless, Mary Kay Ash.
Measuring innovation in MENA Advertising Ecosystem

MENA crowd should change the way they look to Advertising pinnacle. Whether it is Holistic Social Media Advertising, Contextual Text Based advertising (e.g. Google AdSense), Display Advertising or Keyword Search based CPC Advertising. According to Google, “Users need advertisers because they provide valuable additional information”.

The ArabNet advertising panel has missed a crucial point of why we have few advertisers?

Advertising platform resides in a two sided market where advertisers make up for one side and media publishers make up the other site.

The problem resides in the lack of advertisers’ landing pages readiness. Many potential advertisers are Brick & Mortar businesses that do not have a significant online presence or online business strategy. Brand’s online presence lack real value, does not engage with its audience, neither have a direct sales channel and have a bad design. Offline businesses without an online strategy underestimate the rewards coming from starting their new digital channels.

Brands should gain better ROI by adding Analytics, capturing customer insights, starting a professional blog, writing whitepapers and having an online customer acquisition strategy that enable building customers database. Any systematic marketing or re-marketing efforts will fade without profiling customers.

By communicating these values through the marketplace, the first building block for a real MENA based Affiliate Network (Performance Based Marketing) can be setup. A business or retailer will recruit affiliate publishers who can match an industry segment with their targeted audience. By cultivating the advertisers’ performance, we will encourage more publishers to enter the market.

The total outcome will transparently encourage and promote more quality Arabic content. Although MENA region have 56 million online users in Arabia region, we contribute for 1% of world’s online content.

Social Media Innovation

I  was impressed during ArabNet Online Advertising panel when Khaled Jabasini (Founder, E-marketing MENA) partially stripped 🙂 to make a buzz, as a symbol of social media true utilization and how originating a positive word of mouth will support brand’s products more than any well written brand’s own sales pitch because it’s a trusted experience message originating from customers to the customer, and as Jabasini said: “advertising with zero dime cost” by allowing a brand to engage positively with audience and build a mutual experience. This is aligned with the new myth (via @umairh) “Advertising is the price a business pays for not being creative”. And as per Nielsen, “Winning online is about Serving Audience and not creating impressions!”
MENA region demand is for more collaborative business in the cloud, more service-oriented customer-centric dynamic platforms than static webs.

According to Yahoo!’s Alexa top 500 global websites, only 6 MENA based sites are in the list, including Google’s KSA and AE regional search page. (Maktoob #162, #251, #400 and #440).

Final Opinion

Innovative institutes do exist in the region; however their activities and influence are limited to the country or the region they are in. They need to expand beyond to include more areas in the MENA region. One example is Microsoft Innovation Lab in Cairo (MILC).

Going back to the Web industry CRM, I can say that ArabNet has triggered a new collaborative network between industry experts (Look @ ArabNet Twitter Lists), never seen before in the region. Experts are fragmented in each country and if we invite a Silicon Valley Investor to Jordan for example, there is no centralized database, or no mean of reaching talents, and the same matter applies to the whole region. For this was created as the first Arabian web Industry hub that enables collaboration and technical Q&A Web-Storming sessions between experts and entrepreneurs and as brands and experts’ database.

Final advice to startups: focus on current trends and era that can be summarized by “The Internet is reaching into the phone” and “Browsing is out; engaging experiences are in”. One example utilized by many brands and agencies is mobile targeting and advertising. The users are sent to the mobile version of their websites when a mobile browser is detected.
Let us carry forward the innovation cycle in the region. Let us embrace the endless possibilities.

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  1. fatin khwarizmi  |  May 20th, 2010 at 1:17 PM #

    “Entrepreneurs and Youth are the bricks of our new economy”

    “An Innovative nation calls to invest in brains not bricks and needs to transform any challenges it faces into assets and to leverage the business talents of young people.”

    “We need creators’ entrepreneurs who can make real difference and we don’t need more imitators.”

    an extraordinary article ! full of instructive quotes that should be a compass for every youth & adult interested in tech field , entrepreneurship or in general,interested in innovation in all its sites !

  2. Tanya Kasim  |  May 20th, 2010 at 1:57 PM #

    You raised a very valid point there, Fatin. We need creators who will make a real difference. Innovation comes from originality.

  3. fatin khwarizmi  |  May 20th, 2010 at 5:52 PM #

    Thanks Tanya, but i did just repeat what brother Omar said, all the credit goes to him! i did find in every paragraph a wisdom that should be a quote itself !
    @Thanya: your participation is precious
    @Omar :we want more topics equivalent to the present one , in deed ,it will enrich our knowledge
    @Gaith: you are a perfect CEO for Arabcrunch !

    wish you all success & more progress in your life !!!

  4. Finalizer  |  May 20th, 2010 at 7:09 PM #

    Very comprehensive article, and rich with ideas that seem to come from a practical experience and a wide vision of Online Business Evolution in MENA region.

  5. Rasha Mahmoud  |  May 22nd, 2010 at 11:15 AM #

    Great article! Also hope to c such informative and encouraging articles translated to Arabic to enrich the Arabic content and encourage Arabic users to enter the e-business

  6. Omar Aloyoun  |  May 22nd, 2010 at 9:01 PM #

    @Fatin Thank you so much for your comments. I am glad you consider my article a rich one and a compass for youth. 🙂 I will be posting more articles soon on ArabCrunh and on my new portal that will be launched soon

    @Tanya Exactly, we have many ideas been commercialized that are unique in Arab World. These products can fill a gap in the market globally too, but we shouldn’t support imitating global products with re-inventing them

    @Finalizer You are welcome 🙂

    @Rasha Thanks for your comment. Indeed, we need more content in Arabic. One point to be raised here, even if we have a translation of quality non-arabic content will enrich the arabic internet ecosystem. I mean it doesn’t needed for new arabic content to be unique.
    I have checked your blog & followed you via feedburner. Nice one 🙂

  7. A comment from Omar Christidis  |  May 22nd, 2010 at 9:07 PM #

    I would like to share this comment that I have received by e-mail from Omar Christidis – Founder of ArabNet and iBag VP (Lebanon).

    Omar Aloyoun
    Dear Omar,

    Thanks for sharing this article and for your positive commentary about ArabNet.

    In terms of constructive criticism, I think the article ambitiously tries to tackle the issue of innovation from multiple perspectives and makes some great points. However, I believe it is a bit long for what people usually read on the internet today–you could probably break it up into two articles. Also, you’ve got a lot of great ideas in the article, but there’s not a clear thesis that it starts with and a point that it drives to. My feedback would be to look at this like an essay: you’ve got a main point that you want to demonstrate and then you develop some proofs / facts / data about it that reiterates your point–work on a clear focus and structure that demonstrates one or two points in a brief article.

    I hope this helps, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

    Best regards,
    Omar Christidis
    Founder, ArabNet
    Vice President, IBAG

  8. Hiba Farhat  |  May 25th, 2010 at 8:20 AM #

    The article tackled some great points that we need to ask ourselves at least in this part of the world. Where to go from here? How will we move forward? How will we be able to create content rather than just use it? How can we open up the scope and get the ‘unusual’ suspects onboard?

    Thank you for sharing this with me.

    Hiba Farhat
    Regional Coordinator
    Young Leaders Social Media Cafe
    Swedish Institute

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